published Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Volunteer fire department members to vote on future

Members of Post Volunteer Fire Department in Catoosa County, Ga., will vote tonight on a proposal to turn over their trucks and equipment to Fort Ogle-thorpe and apply for jobs in the city department.

Robbie Tester, chairman of the Post Volunteer board, said Post members have a hard choice: dissolving their department in favor of the city, or possibly ending more than 50 years of fire protection for Fort Oglethorpe residents.

“We’re going to have some tough decisions to make,” Mr. Tester said. “We’ve been here many, many years and we would never leave our residents hanging out to dry, but you can’t run a business without money.”

The vote follows a meeting in which Fort Oglethorpe City Council members decided not to continue paying the department $31,000 a month for personnel and operations.

Fort Oglethorpe in February agreed to pay $31,000 a month to pay Post personnel, but that money ran out Wednesday.

Instead, he said, city officials said that if the Post organization would dissolve itself and turn over about $2 million in assets, its firefighters could apply for jobs in the new city-run department.

Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Ronnie Cobb said the present situation — with some city-paid fire and rescue people and some Post members who are paid when they respond to fires — is confusing and costly.

“We cannot continue on the path we’re going, to have paid-on-response volunteers,” Mr. Cobb said Wednesday night. “It’s going to have to be all or nothing. If the city takes it over, we’re going to have to manage it, staff it, payroll and all.”

Post members and the city of Fort Oglethorpe have been talking for months about solutions for their hybrid fire service.

Post has operated most of the city’s service for years. Mr. Tester said that, with fewer volunteers, the department wanted to move to a paid-on-response model that he said is less costly than a full-time, paid department.

The issue is complicated. Post has a separate contract with Catoosa County, and county officials have not said whether they want to move toward consolidating into a single, countywide service.

Mr. Tester said he thought the city and the department had agreed to negotiate at Monday’s meeting whether Post would merge with the city or take over the entire fire response. He said the department offered two plans, but the city’s only offer was for Post to dissolve.

He said the city would set the budget and provide as much fire protection as it could for whatever the budget provides.

“We’ve run the fire department since the 1950s. We know how much it costs and (the city’s fire budget) is not going to be enough to provide a consistent level of service,” he said.

Mr. Cobb called Post’s positions “smoke and mirrors” and “scare tactics.”

“We will have a fire department that is staffed with professionals,” he said, which should include Mr. Tester’s and other Post members who have years of training and expertise.

“Nobody’s getting fired, nobody’s getting thrown under the bus, it’s for the benefit of the taxpayers and the benefit of the people,” he said.

Continue reading by following this link to a related story:

Article: Fort Oglethorpe running low on funds for fire department

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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UGA1 said...

Smoke and mirrors? Is the mayor serious? Who voted him in office? It probably wasn't the average citizen of Fort Oglethorpe. The city pays about $100,000 dollars for the fire service, the rest is paid for by insurance premium taxes and a contract with Catoosa County to provide service to western county areas outside FO city limits for $175,000. So they get fire protection pretty cheap-cheaper than most cities have to pay. Catoosa County will probably give notice to cancel their contract with both the POST and the city, so they propose to spend only $500,000 for next year's fire budget (down from the $670,000 of this year). If not for the POST, the city would have only 4 actual firefighters (the other full time staff (2)are inspections and administrative positions). The POST provides all other coverage for staffing the fire stations. If no agreement with the POST is done, how are they going to pay for fire personnel?

June 24, 2010 at 10:13 a.m.
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